WHAT IS ACHALASIA?
The esophagus, also known as the "swallowing tube" is located just below the throat. In a normal esophagus, there is a relaxation process that occurs which allows food to pass into the stomach once it has been chewed.
Achalasia is a rare disease of the lower portion of the muscle of the esophagus. (MedicineNet.com http://www.medicinenet.com/achalasia/article.htm)
The lower portion of the esophagus is what relaxes in order for food to pass into the stomach. When this doesn't occur, it is known as a "failure to relax" which is the definition of achalasia.
In a healthily functioning esophagus, three functional parts work together to achieve swallowing. Like other systems in our bodies, there is a wave function which is known as the peristaltic wave, which allows parts of the "tube" to remain closed off while others relax and open up. The three functioning parts of the esophagus operate in this way, with the top part remaining closed off until food is ready to be swallowed, then opening up while the bottom two remain closed. As the food travels down, the middle, then the bottom open up, while the top closes off. It is this bottom portion that fails to relax or open up in achalasia, making the last part of swallowing difficult.
At this time, there is no known cause of achalasia. Genes may play a role but this has yet to be determined.
Symptoms of achalasia include a feeling of heaviness in the chest after swallowing, or a feeling of not being able to fully swallow. Occasionally, pain be present and can be severe. It can also mimic heart pain, so it is important to diagnose this condition as soon as possible to avoid feeling that you are having an issue with your heart.
Treatments for achalasia include oral medications, dilation or stretching of the lower esophageal sphincter (dilation), surgery to cut the sphincter (esophagomyotomy), and the injection of botulinum toxin (Botox) into the sphincter. All four treatments reduce the pressure within the lower esophageal sphincter to allow easier passage of food from the esophagus into the stomach.